Tuesday, 14 April 2020

The Comedy of Errors

The coronavirus lockdown has had a major impact on the UK birding community. Its effects are manifold, but I am going to focus on three.
  1. Out of the blue, thousands of birders have been investigating/researching/looking into nocmig, ie, the nocturnal sound-recording of stuff what flies over your home while you're asleep.
  2. Thousands of birders have been feverishly buying nocmig kit and downloading Audacity.
  3. And thousands of birders have been rueing the very day...
Let's take these one at a time.

One. Studies show that 98% of the birders who began showing an interest in nocmig within the last few weeks had thus far been, at best, utterly indifferent to the whole concept. So why now? The same studies conclude that it is because the lockdown has taken seawatching off the table. Apparently scanning through an Audacity spectrogram produces hormonal responses identical to those of a dire seawatch. The switch to nocmig was purely an instinctive move by creatures in need of a fix.

Two. The acquisition of kit and software was inevitable. And the urgency (in many cases, desperation) with which it was undertaken is typical of those subject to the base urges mentioned above.

Three. Well, yes. Obviously. Anything that substitutes for seawatching is going to be at least as frustrating and infuriating.

So, last night was my first proper effort...

The temptress.

As seems to be the norm for first-timers, I stuck the recorder in a bucket. I don't yet have a mains power supply, so it was down to the two AA batteries to provide enough juice for the night. Error. I had partially drained them already, and they gave me less than four hours...

Ah well, surely that's plenty of time for some nocmig gold? A superb garden goody to NOT include on my garden list. Because yes, that's another issue isn't it? The 'list' thing. For me, the only way round it is to have a 'Nocmig List'. Anyway, rather excitedly I plugged the recorder into my laptop, opened Audacity and uploaded the night's noises. It took a-a-a-a-ages. My laptop is about five years old, and probably a bit congested with rubbish. Plus I am not that computer-savvy. Whatever the reason(s), my first nocmig file was rather slow to give itself up. And once it finally was transferred, my every action in Audacity resulted in the programme 'hanging' for an eternity. Eventually...eventually, it settled down, and I clicked through the spectrogram in 25-second chunks...

A million false alarms. This must be common to all newbies, but any hint of 'activity', ie, smudgy blips and lines etc, and I'd be stopping, selecting, playing, replaying, discarding... It took forever to get through the first hour. I was treated to many varieties of dog, various muted voices, a car horn, and then this...

Nocmig action!

This was the one and only decent birdy noise on the whole recording. I haven't yet worked out how to put a proper sound file on here, so take it from me that this sounded interesting. My best guess was Grey Heron, but I couldn't be sure. I listened to a few on Xeno Canto, and admittedly they mostly sounded a bit shorter and harsher and, well, more obviously Heron, but it seemed like a good shout. So I made a tentative approach to the Nocmig WhatsApp Group. 'Could this be a Grey Heron?' I asked.

I have to say, the nocmig cognoscenti are an extremely helpful bunch, and they were quick to respond to this, my first dipping of a toe in the murky nocmig waters...

'It's a mammal. A cat I think'.
'Agreed. Cat.'

So, climb aboard the nocmig train my friends. And prepare for a severe humbling.

11 comments:

  1. Yeah but it's got batteries and will probably mean a computer upgrade with days of frustration sorting it out. What's not to love, it's a man thing 😊
    But I'll pass for now.

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    1. You're so right Dave. My wife has spent the last few days polishing up her tutting and eye-rolling technique... 😊

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    2. Had a confirmed grey heron at dawn today - it ate all the rudd in my pond and stabbed a carp :o(

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    3. Oh no! The dreaded dawn raid. Happened to us when we lived in Herts. Heron flying over the garden is fine; Heron actually in it, always bad news.

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  2. I too used the sea-watching analogy in an early draft of one of my nocmig posts. The waiting, the "Should I stay, should I leave, will it improve?" etc. Just replace leave with sleep. Last night I listened from midnight to 1am - NOTHING -and then must have dozed off until 2am. Then listened until 3am - HELICOPTER. My early successes are really coming home to roost.

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    1. Ditto. Three Moorhen calls in two nights seems like a purple patch now!

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  3. And there lies part Four of your list. A Grey Heron you GUESSED. GUESSED! When was the last time you had to guess at a Grey Heron? This seems to be the norm with most recordings as they can very rarely be 100% positive as many nocturnal migration calls are only that, nocturnal so the caller has never been categorically identified. So your GUESSED Heron might as well have been a GUESSED Night Heron and be damned! So Not only have you never seen it. You have not heard it cos you were in bed, and now you aren't sure of the recording. Get Night Heron on the garden list, that seems to be the way forward ;))

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    1. Ha ha! Yes Stewart, what's become of me!?! 😂 I envy you your seawatching plank!

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  4. Blimey, I've always thought that sea watching was daft enough, all that standing on wind swept shores trying to identify sparrow sized blogs skipping across the wave tops. Now comes "nocmig" to overtake it. There must be hundreds of neighbors around the country now who, when getting up for their middle of the night pee, try and make out what next door are doing laying on the lawn in the middle of a cold night.

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    1. Don't think my neighbours would be too surprised. They already know I'm a bit odd. 😉

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  5. Gawd, it should of course be blob, not blog and "to pee"

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